New York state might take a first-of-its-kind step toward addressing the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
A bill before the New York State Assembly, the “Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act,” or Fashion Act, would require apparel and footwear brands operating in New York state with more than $100 million in revenue worldwide to note and disclose the environmental and social impact of their operations. The bill, first introduced in October, was taken up by the Consumer Affairs and Protection committee last month.
The bill’s introduction comes as the fashion industry is increasingly under scrutiny for its outsized climate impact and unsustainable practices. Fashion contributed to 2 to 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. The industry also generates considerable waste: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans discarded 17 million tons of textiles in 2018, of which only 2.5 million tons were recycled. The industry is also responsible for 20 percent of global wastewater, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
The new law says that businesses operating in New York have to provide more transparency about their supply chain, disclose the environmental and social impacts of their practices, and report any targets or strategies for impact reduction. Businesses that do not comply with the law could be fined up to 2 percent of their annual revenue of $450 million or more, money that will be given to environmental justice efforts.
New York Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, a co-sponsor on the bill, told The Verge in an emailed statement that the impact of so-called “fast fashion” on the climate has been largely ignored in climate change discussions. “The Fashion Act will bring much needed transparency and awareness to the climate impacts of current clothing manufacture practices and will pave the way to important changes to harmful manufacturing practices, and potentially more sustainable trend cycles too!”
But some outside experts think this initial effort isn’t enough, citing the bill’s requirement for brands to map just 50 percent of their supply chain.
“This bill is a good step, but it needs to be more concrete and comprehensive. The fashion supply chain is very complex, and it is vital to have transparency and accountability,” Anupama Pasricha, professor of fashion design and merchandising at St. Catherine University, told The Verge. While Pasricha says that the bill “positions” New York to become a sustainable fashion leader, she warns that as currently written it leaves “wiggle room or gaps that may muddy the intended outcome.”
The bill is currently in committee. It is unclear whether it will make it to the assembly floor for a vote this year. New York state’s current legislative session is set to end in June.